Zambia election: Who are the front runners?

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Thursday's presidential election in Zambia, a landlocked southern African country is being played out as a match between incumbent President Edgar Lungu, 64, and his long-time rival Hakainde Hichilema, 59.

Who are these two men?

Edgar Lungu, the incumbent

A lawyer by training, the man who describes himself as an "ordinary Zambian of modest origins" has developed a willingly repressive intransigence towards his opponents during his six years in power.

He narrowly defeated his main opponent Hakainde Hichilema twice (2015 and 2016) after the death in office of his predecessor Michael Sata, for whom he was defence minister.

The Patriotic Front leader entered politics as an obscure parliamentarian for the United Party for National Development (UPND), the party now led by his opponent Hichilema, which he left in 2001.

Tall and slim, with a personable personality, he initially built on the popularity of his charismatic predecessor. And people in the townships of Lusaka remember that he regularly came to have drinks with them before he became president.

In recent years, there have been increasing complaints that he is cracking down on dissent, partly to consolidate his power ahead of Thursday's election. He allowed Hichilema to be jailed for four months after he challenged the 2016 presidential results and had some independent media outlets shut down.

Married with six children, he suffers from chronic achalasia, a condition caused by a narrowing of the esophagus, which caused him to suffer from vertigo in June, forcing the television to stop broadcasting a military ceremony.

Hakainde Hichilema

This "simple boy who watched the cattle" is now a wealthy self-made businessman who is trying his luck for the sixth time for the presidency.

"HH," as he is nicknamed, has lost every regular or early election held in the country since 2006, increasing his percentage of the vote with each attempt. The last time, in 2016, he lost by such a small margin that he contested the results, claiming the vote was stolen from him.

Arrested about 15 times since entering politics, he spent four months in solitary confinement for "treason" after refusing passage to a presidential convoy just after the 2016 election.

An eloquent speaker and always clean-shaven, Hichilema has campaigned skillfully on social media and worked hard to shed his elitist image, trading his tailored suits for more casual fatigues or jeans.

In an interview with AFP in May, he described himself as "an ordinary citizen, an ordinary African.

Born into a poor family in the south of the country, it was his "grit" and "determination" at school, he says, that earned him a crucial scholarship to the University of Zambia, from which he graduated in economics and business management, before extending his studies in England.

He started in real estate, gradually investing in finance, livestock, health and tourism. "HH" has served on the board of directors of several major Zambian companies.

This political "outsider" from the business world was catapulted to the head of the UPND party after the death of its former leader in 2006.

His campaign slogan is "Faka pressure" or "press for change" in local slang.

A Christian from the Tonga ethnic group, he is married and has three children. A patron of the arts in his spare time, he funds schools and pays school fees for underprivileged children.

AFP

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